For as long as anybody could remember, Janice was a bright and focused worker who never stopped short of perfection. She always arrived at work punctually, performed her duties well and most of all, enjoyed her work.
But somewhere along the way all that changed. She began missing many days off work, often arriving late when she did go to work, and found herself lagging behind in her work due to trouble concentrating. Although she managed to hide this behaviour from her supervisor, it worsened each day. She knew that something was wrong. Janice, like millions of others, suffered from Clinical Depression – as a result, her work suffered with her.
What is depression? Depression is not merely a case of the “blues”, as many people may think. It is a serious illness that may become chronic. If untreated, depression can ruin families, marriages and careers – of those suffering from severe depression, 15 – 20% may attempt suicide.
Depression can seldom be ascribed to a single cause. It is often brought about by the interaction of a person’s biological predisposition, a psychological tendency towards pessimism, low self-esteem, trauma or long-term stress. Clinical depression affects people of all ages, races and economic groups. Employees suffering from clinical depression can be found throughout the ranks of the workplace, from unskilled workers through to senior executives.
Since depression is so widespread, employers need to develop more effective programmes and policies to address this treatable illness. Although employers may fear that new programmes could drive health and insurance costs higher, helping co-workers to regain their health and return to full productivity will bring about cost benefits that far outweigh any other costs.
Supervisors should be on the lookout for the following symptoms of depression :
· Decreased productivity
· Morale problems
· Lack of co-operation
· Safety problems, accidents and absenteeism
· Complaints of persistent fatigue
· Complaints of persistent aches and pains
· Alcohol and drug abuse
A decline in performance does not automatically present with clinical depression as an underlying cause, but supervisors should encourage employees to obtain whatever help is needed to improve performance. Under no circumstances should a supervisor try to diagnose an employee’s condition. The employee must be urged to consult an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) professional or physician.
Confidentiality is critical for an employee suffering from depression. The employee should be told up-front that company policy dictates that any conversation with an EAP representative or medical professional on the subject will remain strictly confidential.
One aspect of education that has proved to be particularly successful in helping people recognise the symptoms of depression and to seek treatment is giving employees the telephone number of their local Depression and Anxiety Support Group. These lines are staffed between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Saturday. The Support Group offers telephonic helplines at numbers (011) 783-1474/6 and (011) 884-1797, an initiative made possible by nineteen of South Africa’s foremost pharmaceutical companies.
Employers and employees both benefit when they take proactive measures to detect and treat depression. Like Janice, many people suffering from depression are frightened, confused and usually unaware of what is prompting their seemingly abnormal behaviour. If employees are informed about their company’s willingness to assist with these problems, they will be motivated to seek treatment, recover and improve their work performance.